Moroccan Goumier


The standard insignia of the "Mixed Moroccan Goumiers": a Janbiya (a curved Moorish knife), inscribed in red with the letters G.M.M (Goum Mixte Marocain) and featuring gold North African decorations
Active 1908-1956
Country  France
Type Infantry and mounted detachments
Part of French Army
Engagements World War II
Goumiers of the 9th Colonial Infantry Division embarking on a Landing craft in Corsica, destination Elba.

The Moroccan Goumiers (French: Les Goumiers Marocains) were indigenous soldiers who served in auxiliary units attached to the French Army of Africa, between 1908 and 1956. While nominally in the service of the Sultan of Morocco, they served under French officers.

Employed initially as tribal irregulars, then in regular contingents, the goumiers were employed extensively during the French occupation of Morocco from 1908 to the early 1930s. They then served in Italy and France during World War II between 1942 and 1945. During this period four Moroccan Tabors Groupments (GTM) were created, each comprising 3 Tabors (battalion) with 3 to 4 Goums (companies). Goumiers then served in Indochina from 1946 to 1954.


The term « Goum » which designated a company of Goumier, originates from the Arab Maghreb « gūm » and the Classical Arabic « qawm », designating « tribe or people » which also made reference to the armed cavalrymen contingents of Arab or North African tribes who would provide support to the chief of their country during sought expeditions.[1]

The term « tabor » is originally a Turkish designation of « tabur » making reference to a « batallion » or by the intermediary Arab « ṭābūr » also originally a Turkish designation.[2]

The word originated in the Maghrebi Arabic word Koum (قوم), which means "people". The non-specific designation "Goumi" (French version "Goumier") was used to circumvent tribal distinctions and enable volunteers from different regions to serve together in mixed units for a "common" cause.

In French military terminology, a goum was a unit of 200 auxiliaries. Three or four goums made up a tabor. An engine or groupe was composed of three tabors. A goum in this case was the equivalent of a company in regular military units and a tabor would thereby be equivalent to a battalion. A tabor was the largest permanent goumier unit.

Each goum was a mix of different berber tribes mainly from the Atlas mountains of Morocco.[3] sd


The designation of "goumiers" was originally given to tribal irregulars employed as allies by the French Army during the early 1900s in southern Algeria. These mounted allies operated under their own tribal leadership and were entirely distinct from the regular Muslim cavalry (Spahi) and infantry (Tirailleur) regiments of the French Armée d'Afrique.[4] Tribal police auxiliaries serving with the French gendarmerie in the settled areas of Algeria were also known as goumiers.

Morocco, 1908–34

Algerian goumiers were employed during the initial stages of the French intervention in Morocco, commencing in 1908. After their terms of enlistment expired, the Algerians returned to their homeland, but the advantages of indigenous irregulars were such that they were replaced by Moroccan levies. Retaining the designation of goumiers, the Moroccans served in detachments under French officers, and initially mostly Algerian NCOs, both of whom were usually seconded from the Spahis and Tirailleurs.[5] Moroccan sous-officers were in due course appointed.

These semi-permanently employed Moroccan goumiers were initially raised by General Albert D'Amade to patrol recently-occupied areas. Goumiers also served as scouts and in support of regular French troops, and in 1911 they became permanent units. Nominally, they were under the control of the Sultan of Morocco, but in practice they formed an extension of the French Army and subsequently fought for France in third countries (see below). However, their biggest involvement was in Morocco itself during the period of French "pacification".

Initially, the Moroccan Goums wore tribal dress with only blue cloaks as uniform items, but as they achieved permanent status they adopted the distinctive brown and grey striped jellaba (a hooded Moroccan cloak) that was to remain their trademark throughout their history with the French Army. Their normal headdress was a turban. Goums included both infantry and cavalry elements. Their traditional and favoured weapons were sabres or elongated daggers.

An equivalent force known as the Mehal-La Jalifiana was raised in Spanish Morocco using France's goumiers as a model.

World War I

A Goumier cavalryman (in this case an Algerian spahi irregular) at Saleux (Somme), May–June 1915 during World War I.

The Moroccan Goumiers did not see service outside Morocco during the First World War, although the term was sometimes used for detachments of Algerian spahi irregulars employed in Flanders in late 1914. Their existence did, however, enable General Hubert Lyautey to withdraw a substantial portion of the regular French military forces from Morocco for service on the Western Front. Remaining separate from the regular Moroccan regiments of the French Armée d'Afrique, the Goumiers gave valuable service during the Rif Wars of the 1920s. They subsequently became a form of gendarmerie, keeping order in rural districts of Morocco.

World War II

A "Goum" featured in Yank magazine, shown sharpening his bayonet.

Four Moroccan groups (regimental-sized units, about 12 000 men in total) served with the Allied forces during World War II. They specialised in night raiding operations, and fought against the forces of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany during 1942-45. Goumier units were also used to man the front lines in mountainous and other rough terrain areas, freeing regular Allied infantry units to operate along more profitable axes of advance.

North Africa 1940–42

In May 1940, 12 Moroccan Goums were organized as the 1st Group of Moroccan Auxiliaries (French: 1er Groupe de Supplétifs Marocains - G.S.M.) and used in combat against Italian troops operating out of Libya. After the armistice of 1940, the Goums were returned to Morocco. To evade strict German limits on how many troops France could maintain in North Africa, the Goumiers were described as having Gendarmerie-type functions, such as maintenance of public order and the surveillance of frontiers, while maintaining military armament, organization, and discipline.[6]

Tunisia, 1942–43

The 1st GSM (Groupe de Supplétifs Marocains) fought on the Tunisian front as part of the Moroccan March Division from December 1942, and was joined by the 2nd GSM in January 1943.

The 15th Army Group commander, British General Harold Alexander considered the French Moroccan Goumiers as "great fighters" and gave them to the allies to help them to take Bizerte and Tunis.[7]

After the Tunisia Campaign, the French organized two additional groups and retitled the groups as Groupement de Tabors Marocains (G.T.M.) Each group contained a command Goum (company) and three Tabors (battalions) of three Goums each. A Tabor contained four 81-mm mortars and totalled 891 men. Each infantry Goum was authorized 210 men, one 60-mm mortar, two light machine guns, and seven automatic rifles.[8]

Separate from the groups, the 14th Tabor did not participate in the fighting in Europe and remained in Morocco to keep public order for the remainder of the war.[6]

Italy, 1943–45

The 4th Tabor of Moroccan Goums fought in the Sicilian Campaign, landing at Licata on July 14, 1943, and was attached to the U.S. Seventh Army.[6][9] The Goumiers of the 4th Tabor were attached to the U.S. 1st Infantry Division on 27 July 1943 and were recorded in the U.S. 26th Infantry Regiment's log files for their courage. Upon their arrival many Italian soldiers surrendered en masse, while the Germans began staging major retreats away from known Goumiers presence.[10]

The Italian campaign of World War II is perhaps the most famous and most controversial in the history of the Goumiers. The 4th Group of Moroccan Tabors shipped out for Italy in November 1943 and was followed in January 1944 by the 3rd Group, then reinforced by the 1st Group in April 1944.[6]

In Italy, the Allies suffered a long stalemate at the German Gustav Line. In May 1944, three Goumier groupes, under the name Corps de Montagne, were the vanguard of the French Expeditionary Corps attack through the Aurunci Mountains during Operation Diadem, the fourth Battle of Monte Cassino. "Here the Goums more than proved their value as light, highly mobile mountain troops who could penetrate the most vertical terrain in fighting order and with a minimum of logistical requirements. Most military analysts consider the Goumiers' manoeuvre as the critical victory that finally opened the way to Rome."

The Allied commander, U.S. General Mark Clark also paid tribute to the Goumiers and the Moroccan regulars of the Tirailleur units:

In spite of the stiffening enemy resistance, the 2nd Moroccan Division penetrated the Gustave [sic] Line in less than two day’s fighting. The next 48 hours on the French front were decisive. The knife-wielding Goumiers swarmed over the hills, particularly at night, and General Juin’s entire force showed an aggressiveness hour after hour that the Germans could not withstand. Cerasola, San Giorgio, Mt. D’Oro, Ausonia and Esperia were seized in one of the most brilliant and daring advances of the war in Italy... For this performance, which was to be a key to the success of the entire drive on Rome, I shall always be a grateful admirer of General Juin and his magnificent FEC.

During their fighting in the Italian Campaign, the Goumiers suffered 3,000 casualties, of which 600 were killed in action.[11]

Reported atrocities

See also: Marocchinate

However, the military achievements of the Goumiers in Italy were accompanied by widespread reports of war crimes: "...exceptional numbers of Moroccans were executed—many without trial—for allegedly murdering, raping, and pillaging their way across the Italian countryside. The French authorities sought to defuse the problem by importing numbers of Berber women to serve as "camp followers" in rear areas set aside exclusively for the Goumiers." According to Italian sources, more than 7,000 people were raped by Goumiers. Those rapes, later known in Italy as Marocchinate, were against women, children and men, including some priests. The mayor of Esperia (a comune in the Province of Frosinone), reported that in his town, 700 women out of 2,500 inhabitants were raped and that some had died as a result. In northern Latium and southern Tuscany, it is alleged that the Goumiers raped and occasionally killed women and young men after the Germans retreated, including members of partisan formations..

On the other hand a British journalist commented, “The Goums have become a legend, a joke… No account of their rapes or their other acts is too eccentric to be passed off as true.”[12]

The French Expeditionary Corps executed 15 soldiers by firing squad and sentenced 54 others to hard labor in military prisons for acts of rape or murder.[11]

Still in 2015, the Italian state recognized compensation to a victim of these events.[13]

Corsica, 1943

In September 1943 the 2nd Group of Moroccan Tabors participated in the liberation of Corsica, and fought the Germans in the mountains near Bastia, by Cape Corse.

Elba, 1944

The 2nd Group of Moroccan Tabors was part of the French Forces that took Elba from the Germans in June 1944. The operation was called Operation Brassard. The island was more heavily defended than expected, and there were many casualties on both sides as a result of the severe fighting.

Mainland France, 1944

The 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Groups of Moroccan Tabors fought in the campaigns in southern France, Vosges Mountains, and Alsace during late 1944 and early 1945. The Goumiers started landing in southern France on 18 August 1944. Attached to the 3rd Algerian Infantry Division, all three groups took part in the combat to liberate Marseille from 20 to 28 August 1944. The 1st Group was subsequently used to secure France's Alpine frontier with Italy until late October 1944, and then took part in the forcing of the Belfort Gap in November. During late September and early October 1944, the 2nd and 3rd Groups fought in the areas of Remiremont and Gérardmer. All three groups fought in the Vosges Mountains during November and December 1944, facing extremely cold weather and bitter German resistance. After hard fighting in the Vosges Mountains and the Colmar Pocket, the 3rd Group was repatriated to Morocco in April 1945. It was replaced in Europe by the 4th Group, which had returned to North Africa after French forces left Italy.[14]

Germany, 1945

The 1st, 2nd, and 4th Groups of Moroccan Tabors fought in the final operations to overrun southwestern Germany in 1945.[14] The 1st Group fought through the Siegfried Line in the Bienwald from 20 to 25 March 1945 and was reportedly the first western Allied force to set foot on German soil. In April 1945, the 1st and 4th Groups took part in the fighting to seize Pforzheim. During the last weeks of the war, the 2nd Group fought in the Black Forest and pushed southeast to Germany's Austrian border. During the same period, the 1st and 4th Groups advanced with other French forces on Stuttgart and Tübingen. By mid-1946, all three groups had been repatriated to Morocco.

Goumier casualties in World War II from 1942 to 1945 totaled 8,018 of which 1,625 were killed in action.

Indochina, 1949-1954

Following World War II Moroccan goumiers saw service in French Indo-China from June 1949 until the fall of Dien Bien Phu in 1954. Stationed in the northern frontier zone of Tonkin, the goumier units were used mainly for convoy escort and quadrillage de zone (regional search and destroy) duties. By contrast with the regular Moroccan tirailleurs, who enlisted for fixed terms of service, the goumiers were contracted to serve specifically in Indo-China for the period of hostilities only.[15]

As in previous campaigns, the goumiers were organised in battalion sized Tabors, each comprising several Goums or companies. The proportion of French officers to Moroccan other ranks was low, with normally only two in each company. Locally recruited Indochinese auxiliaries were attached to each Tabor as reconnaissance units. Brigaded for administrative purposes in the Groupement de Tabors Marocain d'Extreme Orient there were, at any one time, usually three Tabors serving in Indochina during the war against the Viet Minh. In October 1950 the 11e Tabor was overrun at Na Kheo, with only 369 survivors out of 924 goumiers and French officers.[16]

During this, their final campaign in French service, the goumiers continued, at least for parade and in cold weather, to wear the distinctive flat-topped turbans and brown-striped djellabas that had distinguished these units since 1911.

Following Moroccan independence

With Moroccan independence in 1956, the Goums were incorporated into the new Royal Army of Morocco. Following negotiations between the French, Spanish and Moroccan governments, it was agreed that both regular and auxiliary Moroccan units could be transferred into the new Forces Armées Royales or FAR.

Fourteen thousand Moroccan personnel were accordingly transferred from French service. The modern Moroccan military includes both a Royal Gendarmerie and Auxiliary Force Companies. Both forces have an overlapping rural policing role and are in that sense the successors of the Goumiers.


Fanion of the 1eGTM.


In France, citations made during World War I, World War II or colonial conflicts were accompanied with awards of a Croix de guerre (Cross of War) with attachments on the ribbon depending on the degree of citation: the lowest being represented by a bronze star (for those who had been cited at the regiment or brigade level) while the highest degree is represented by a bronze palm (for those who had been cited at the army level). A unit can be mentioned in Despatches. Its flag is then decorated with the corresponding Croix. After two citations in Army Orders, the men of the unit concerned are all entitled to wear a fourragère.

Second World war[17]

In total, between 1942 and 1945, the Group of Tabors, Tabors and Goums earned the Croix de Guerre with bronze palm (Army level) seventeen times and the Croix de Guerre with silver gilt star (corps level) nine times:[18]

First Indochina War[17]

In 1945, the Goumiers received their first flag, from Charles de Gaulle. In 1952 this standard was awarded the Legion of Honour, the highest decoration in France.[19][20]

In fiction

A scene in which women are raped by goumiers during the 1944 Italian Campaign of World War II has a key role in Alberto Moravia's 1958 novel Two Women (Orig. title in Italian La Ciociara) and the 1960 film based on the novel.

Similarly, in the novel Point of Honor by Mortimer R. Kadish (1951), whose setting is the American Army campaign in Italy in 1944, the closing pages depict the protection by Americans of Italian villagers against a threat of rape and murder by "Ayrab" or "Goum" troops.

See also

Similar organizations

Notes and citations

  1. Définition de GOUMIER - CNRTL
  2. Définition de TABOR - CNRTL
  3. Bimberg, Edward L. The Moroccan Goums: Tribal Warriors in a Modern War
  4. Maghraoui, Driss. Moroccan colonial soldiers: between selective memory and collective memory - Beyond Colonialism and Nationalism in North Africa. Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ), Spring, 1998
  5. Pages 280-283 Vol. 1 "Zouaves & Tirailleurs: les regiments de marche et les regiments mixtes" Jean-Louis Larcade, ISBN 2-9515171-0-6
  6. 1 2 3 4 Gaujac, p. 68
  7. To help them I gave them the French Moroccan Goumiers, who were experienced mountain troops and great fighters, Harold Alexander, The Alexander Memoirs, 1940-1945, Londres, Cassell, 1962, pp. 37-38
  8. Gaujac, p. 58
  9. Lescel (2002), Fédération des Amicales Régimentaires et des Anciens Combattants website article no. 366 (March 2002) "Goumiers, Goums, Tabors" (French language text)
  10. "S-1 Journal, 26th Infantry Regimental Combat Team" (PDF). Retrieved 2007-05-16.
  11. 1 2 Gaujac, p. 69
  12. Parker, Matthew. Monte Cassino: The story of the hardest-fought battle of World War Two. p. 269
  13. "Violentata a 27 anni viene risarcita quando ne ha quasi 100". Corriere della Sera. 23 September 2015. Retrieved 23 September 2015.
  14. 1 2 Gaujac, p. 71
  15. Olivier Bellec "Les Tabors Marocains", Militaria 292, Novembre 2009
  16. "The French Indochina War 1946-54", Martin Windrow, ISBN 1-85532-789-9
  17. 1 2 Les Fourragères
  18. Général Guillaume, Un homme en guerre, France-Empire, 1977, p.185
  19. Collectivité décorées de la Légion d’honneur, Goums marocains - Ordre de la Légion d’honneur,
  20. its flag is decorated with the insignia of a knight, which is a different award than the fourragère


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